A table for one, please

The trend for no-reservation restaurants has a happy side-effect: dining alone has never been easier, says Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

I f there is one recent trend in Britain's dining scene that has divided foodies like few others, it's the no-reservations restaurant. While egalitarians raise their glasses to an end to position and privilege snaffling the best tables, traditionalists grumble that standing in the rain outside a doorway is not exactly a relaxing start to a meal.

But it seems that the first-come, first-served eateries play in the favour of one side of another great gulf among restaurant goers: those of us who are happy to dine in the company of just ourselves, our food and perhaps a good read – and those filled with horror at the thought of uttering the dreaded words: "A table for one, please."

Eschewing the pack mentality, it seems, is one of the few ways to skip the queue and secure a swift seating in some of the hippest joints springing up around the country. And these restaurants are positively embracing the lone wolves, allowing us solo diners to finally shake off our lingering pariah status.

"I think more and more places are welcoming solo diners because they make up a very significant percentage of the restaurant-going public," says Russell Norman, the restaurateur behind London's Polpo, where diners can prop themselves up at a bar and work their way through plate after plate of delicious Venetian tapas-style dishes. "The casual approach of many restaurants actually favours solo diners; it's easier to get a single spot without a booking than if you are, say, a party of four or six."

I belong firmly to the category of diners happy to perch at a bar or table and tuck in alone. It was a habit formed during years spent working as a reporter overseas, where solo assignments to far-flung corners often meant I had little choice but to eat by myself.

A thick skin is still required in many countries, especially in Asia, where there is a huge emphasis on membership of a group as an extension of the family and the lone Westerner tucking in to a plate of noodles is frankly considered a little odd.

Now I rather relish the occasional opportunity to dine without having to dissect the pros and cons of each dish or make small talk between mouthfuls. So I am surprised at the response of some friends who say that – while they may grab an informal lunch or breakfast on their own – they would never dream of going to a more upmarket venue for dinner à une. Some female friends worry they look like they're out on the prowl, or more embarrassingly, have been stood up. Restaurants – mostly those of the stuffier persuasion – also have traditionally been unwelcoming: waiters hover suspiciously, while owners fret over paltry one-person bills.

Not so any more, says Norman, who has opened four similar London restaurants after the success of Polpo.

"The stigma that used to be attached to dining alone has now gone and we are comfortable in our own company or with a newspaper or a novel," he tells me. "We positively encourage people to come in solo. In fact, the most common lunch party size at Spuntino is one. The interesting thing is that you nearly always end up talking to the person next to you, so dining alone can be, ironically, a very social experience."

On an evening wander round the streets of Soho, where the hyped new openings seem to cluster, it is common to see queues snaking down the streets, a mix of hipsters and post-work suits spilling out of doorways.

Even if you support the idea of scrapping reservations in theory, it's still a bit of a pain. A trip late last year to Ducksoup, another intimate Soho restaurant serving up innovative cooking in casual surroundings, saw me and my boyfriend squeezed in the doorway between two Chinese businessmen whose suits demonstrated they clearly had much more money than us and two couples whose haircuts showed they were clearly much more hip. Nevertheless, there we all waited for tables for 45 minutes, trying not to jog the record player as we jockeyed for the elbow room to raise our artisan beers to hungry mouths.

A return to Ducksoup alone last week proved an infinitely calmer experience. As pairs jostled at the door, the waiter suggested that I could be squeezed on the end of a table with two other people, although he worried that I might feel a little hidden away at the back.

Most solo diners like to eat at the bar, he confided, but today that was packed. In the end, I was found a spot in a wonderfully prominent place by the door.

As I tucked into cod with cockles and grilled fennel with saffron mayonnaise and caught up on some reading, I reflected on another boon for those of us willing to strike out alone: those annoying tapas plates meant for sharing but are never quite enough for two? Well, they are the perfect size for one.

Dos and don'ts for solo dining


Do your research. Not all no-reservations restaurants have bar areas and some do not work their way down the queue to find out group sizes. Standing alone in a queue in the rain truly does not bode well for a good evening ahead.


Don't keep looking at your phone in an apologetic manner. While there may be the temptation to give the impression you are merely waiting for tardy friends, you are deceiving no one and just look like you've been stood up.

Do bring some reading material. Unless you are a die-hard daydreamer, there is something rather disconcerting about staring into the middle distance while waiting for your food. I favour the Economist, which gives off the appropriate: "I am far too busy and clever to bother with dining companions" vibe.


Don't expect the best seat in the house. As much as you want the plush table by the window to peer out and watch the world go by, you're unlikely to get it: at the end of the day you do still look a little sad.

Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits